In the lead-up to the 2012 civic election, then-councillor Greg Dionne championed fundraising efforts to keep the Marion Aquatics pool afloat.
© Herald file photo
Mayor Greg Dionne speaks at the State of the City Address on Jan. 16.
Now one year into his mayorship, Dionne is pushing for a new municipal pool, having made his stance known at last weekâs State of the City Address.
Although mixed feelings have followed Dionneâs address, Prince Albert Sharks Swim Club head coach Roger Boucher said that a new pool is only a matter of time.
âFor our club, itâs definitely at capacity,â he said of the roughly 50-member organizationâs use of the Frank J. Dunn Pool. â We couldnât have many more swimmers in our club, just because of how much time we have and how much space.â
On top of that, he notes that the outdoor Kinsmen Water Park is also on its last legs and will close âunless (the city) sinks a whole bunch of money into it.â
The Prince Albert Sharks Swim Club is advocating for not only one pool, but two.
The larger of the two would consist of 10 50-metre lanes -- a length often referred to as âOlympic-sized.â
The other pool would be a warmer general-use facility that includes things like waterslides.
These two pools -- separated by a wall to ensure both can operate without interrupting one another -- would serve the city well into the future, Boucher explained.
Such forward thinking is important, since it might be some time before a new pool is constructed -- a building process that once started might in itself take a few years.
âWe are going to be trying to get support for a new pool from the user groups and start fundraising for it, ideally,â he said.
While Dionne joins the Prince Albert Sharks Swim Club in advocating for a new pool, not everyone on council joins in aquatics-centred enthusiasm, with Coun. Lee Atkinson the most vocal opponent since the mayorâs Jan. 16 address.
With the new pool idea âvented around for a while, now,â Atkinson said that heâd be 100 per cent in favour of a new pool if it were 100 per cent user-funded.
But, heâs not holding his breath.
As residents have seen with the Alfred Jenkins Field House, not only did taxpayers fund a portion of the facilityâs construction cost through a tax levy of about five per cent, theyâve funded its ongoing operation costs.
Although city finance director Joe Day didnât have 2013 numbers at his immediate disposal this week, 2012 budget documents reveal that taxpayers funded the facility to the tune of $447,090 that year.
At the time, city council approved a 2013 contribution of $458,620 -- an amount that covers about 49 per cent of the $939,230 it cost to maintain and operate the facility, with user fees covering the 51 per cent balance.
This falls into the 40 per cent cost recovery goal set by the city council of 1995 -- a means of keeping fees low enough âso that all children are able to participate, regardless of circumstance," past mayor Jim Scarrow explained during the 2006 election.
The Frank J. Dunn Pool was budgeted to operate at a comparatively dismal 29 per cent cost recovery in 2013, with taxpayers covering $426,190 of its budgeted $597,700 operation cost.
Citing a number of city facilities already stretching tax dollars over a wide area, Atkinson cautions, âEvery new thing divides that pie up even smaller, so unless youâre willing to turn off some things and add some new ones, the costs are additional costs.â
In last yearâs budget, the facilities that were set to boast the greatest taxpayer-funded gaps between the cost of operating and revenue included the Art Hauser centre at $632,270, the E. A. Rawlinson Centre and Mann Art Gallery at $469,710 and the Margo Fournier Centre at $215,790.
If you spend your dollars on wants rather than needs, you find that your needs are deficit. Lee Atkinson
Although the overall cost recover was over 40 per cent, Atkinson questions this number since things like water, gas and electricity are not always factored in -- particularly water use.
âIf the subsidization doesnât include all of the real costs, or doesnât include the factor of a reserve for capital improvements or improvement or maintenance on a building, then really, are you factoring in all of the costs?â
While the operation cost deficit is placed on the municipal mill rate, the cost of construction can be another matter.
With the Alfred Jenkins Field House, a five per cent tax levy was created, city finance director Joe Day said, noting that city coffers are paying back money borrowed from the cityâs reserves.
With the facility expected to be paid off with the 2015 levy it will be up to council to decide whether to end the levy or continue it for another facility, such as a new municipal pool.
âI suspect some of (the members of council) are already thinking about whether they should or should not progress that way, but there hasnât been any official discussion yet,â Day said.
Regardless of how council would fund such a facility, Day said that thereâs no question that it would have to be paid for over a period of time.
âI canât imagine anything that could be built within the next few years that the city would be able to find the funding for upfront.â
Recreation facilities a priority?
With Dionne expressing interest in a new pool and recognizing a public desire for a new hockey arena to replace the Art Hauser Centre he has also sparked discussion around priorities.
âRecreation facilities -- are those really our core service?â Atkinson asked. âQuite frankly, all of these things arenât universally utilized,â he said.
âIf you spend your dollars on wants rather than needs, you find that your needs are deficit.â
Last month, Dionne told the Daily Herald that the city faces a $71 million backlog in underground infrastructure work.
"This is accumulation of years of not funding the program to do the upgrades, so it's not one council's problem, it was probably 10 councils' problem," he said at the time.
âCertainly, there will be champions for facilities people may or may not want, but I donât think there will be any champions for, âWe need a new sewer trunk line on whatever street there might be,ââ Atkinson said. âI donât think there will be any citizens fundraising for that.â
Destination Marketing Fund executive director Jayne Remenda recently told the Daily Herald that the cityâs wealth of sport and cultural facilities are what bring in the majority of visitors.
Canadian visitors contribute an average economic impact of $105 million in Prince Albert -- a figure that doesnât factor in foreign guests.
The cityâs elected officials have yet to make any formal plans for a hockey arena or swimming pool.
Itâs anticipated that 2014 budget discussion meeting dates will be made public in the near future.